A Dog’s Brain

By: Malena Esposito

We’re all guilty of talking to our pets. Whether it’s baby talk, full-on sentences, or “stop licking the wall, Freckles,” it’s common for us humans to look into those big, brown eyes and wonder what on earth is going inside their bone-sized brains. Well, wonder no longer, as I’m here to give you the inside poop on your canine’s cranium.

To understand what a dog is thinking, we must first understand how they’re thinking. This is where the anatomy of a dog’ brain comes in.

The front part of a dog’s brain is called the telencephalon, which interprets the five senses and serves as the location for thought. The telencephalon is also in charge of a dog’s personality and progressive social attitudes. However, because this part of their brain is larger in size, it makes for a sensitive nose, ears, and eyes.

Behind the telencephalon is the diencephalon, controlling basic functions such as chewing, breathing, and obtaining information. Due to advanced development of this part of a dog’s brain, it’s known to attribute to crisp hearing, fast reflexes, and nimbleness.

Continuing, the metencephalon is accountable for muscular ability, pulse and blood flow regulation, and serves as the brain’s reward center. For these reasons, you can credit the metencephalon for your dog’s love of fetch and incredible stamina and endurance.

Connected to the spinal cord is the medulla oblongata, which lies at the base of a dog’s brain. This structure supervises unconscious functions, such as digestion, sneezing, heartbeat, respiration, and swallowing. The medulla oblongata is actually the first part to develop before a puppy is born.

Moving into the middle, the corpus callosum is a “wall of nerve cells” that initiates communication between the left and right sides of the telencephalon and the diencephalon, similar to that of humans. Due to the variety of dog breeds, the speed of interaction and the size of the corpus callosum can alter greatly.

There. Now that we can understand how a dog’s brain is structured, we can get into explanations for some of the peculiar things your pup does.

Doggy Zzz’s

Good news—dogs CAN dream! As well as sharing similar sleep patterns, the brain activity of a dog while doing so is also alike to a humans. This means that whenever you see or hear your four-legged friend moving, barking, or moaning in their sleep, they’re likely experiencing a dream, just like you and I.

And on an even happier note, researchers in dog psychology have also concluded that dogs dream even more than we do, and that these dreams involve fun activities such as playing, chasing, and running around. Studies also show that smaller breeds dream more often than large, and that “recent events such as seeing an old friend or going someplace new” can activate dreams right before bed time.

Their bark IS bigger than their bite

Turns out, dogs and babies have a lot more in common than either of us thought. Just like babies can recognize that their cry gets their parents’ attention, dogs notice that their bark sparks their owners attention. Children can use this to their advantage and throw tantrums, because they know that their noise will cause them to receive the reward they desire, whether it be a TV show or a toy. Similarly, if an owner consistently complies to their dogs barking, like when they yap at their bowls in hopes of being fed, it will make it difficult to control them in the future.

Enroll them in preschool, why don’t you?

Dogs can pick up on tips and tricks pretty quick, and studies have discovered that their intelligence and comprehensive skills are that of a two year old. They can count, solve problems, and, as previously mentioned, have the power to prank people and even other animals. The average dog can understand about 150 words, but certain breeds are more capable than other. The record holder for the maximum number of understood words is Chaser the border collie, maxing out at 1,022 words.

Over the course of three years, researchers conducted 838 tests using several training techniques with an end goal of seeing if “there was a limit to the amount of words a border collie could learn.” By the time the three years was up, Chaser knew verbs and nouns, from colors, to toys, to household items. She’s even able to understand complex phrases and can use word association to decipher objects.


Have you ever felt like your dog was able to tell when you’re angry with them? Well, indeed they can. Comparably to humans, dogs can behavior can differ based on the tone of voice you use to talk to them. If you use a happy tone, they’ll feel playful and excited, but if you use an angry tone, they might feel sad or frightened. On the other hand, if they sense fear in your voice, they may see that you’re in need of protection from a threat, while tones of pain may result in soothing actions and comfort from your canine.

Tail-Wagging Tells a Tale

While it’s true that dogs wag their tails when they’re happy, that little flapper can have other indicators. Many dog owners are unaware that this fact only holds true if the wag is to the right. If it’s to the left, it can be a sign for fear, while a low wag can mean nervousness, and a rapid wag could be seen as a symbol for aggression when mixed with muscle tension.

Revenge Isn’t So Sweet After All

Have you ever sworn that your dog was out to get you? Maybe they peed on the carpet or tore up a pillow? And how many times does this result in disciplinary actions towards your dog? Pretty much all of them, right? Well, turns out, the extra anger might not be necessary.

Surprisingly, dogs don’t have the mental capacity to plan and execute acts of vengeance to anyone. Premeditation is just not a skill they possess.

So while you may think your dog is “out to get you,” using the bathroom as a carpet could just mean that being home alone all day was a drastic change in their own routine and they were stressed out. Likewise, defacing the feathers could indicate that they needed to release their energy in some form after being cooped up for so long. Therefore, alternative solutions should be used to address bad behavior as opposed to severe scolding.

Well, there you have it. A dog’s brain. Hopefully you learned something about your crazy canine, because I know I sure have. And hopefully next time they do something strange, you’ll know why and where it’s coming from.



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